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Tafi Mhaka: Dear Zimbabwe: Is Chamisa’s MDC Alliance any better than Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF?

By Tafi Mhaka

Dear Zimbabwe, the last nine weeks have made clear that Zimbabwe is seriously inundated by a debilitating dearth of strong leadership. To begin with, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s disastrous decision to deploy Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) soldiers to MDC Alliance strongholds during the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) mass stay away in January caused a spate of needless deaths, beatings and sexual assaults.

MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa (centre) and Tendai Biti (Alliance principal) (centre) and Amos Chibaya (Organising Secretary) - right.
MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa (centre) and Tendai Biti (Alliance principal) (centre) and Amos Chibaya (Organising Secretary) – right.

And to stem mounting criticism of an alarmingly unsympathetic government, Mnangagwa met with July 2018 presidential candidates that don’t represent a majority of Zimbabwe’s voters. This ill-advised, futile presidential grandstanding, coming at a time Zimbabwe required permanent solutions to a raging election feud and a fast deteriorating economic crisis, further confirmed Mnangagwa’s coldness towards our immense plight and profound unsuitability for office.

Worse still, in the aftermath of a violent military clampdown, Mnangagwa made an absolute fool of himself on French broadcaster France 24 by attempting to justify ZDF soldiers killing unarmed civilians and disputing widespread reports of ZDF sexual assaults to a global audience fully disturbed and mortified by despotic abuses emerging from Zimbabwe. Indeed, both local and foreign observers openly wondered what had gone tremendously amiss for Mnangagwa. 

Maybe Zimbabweans and the international community alike had come to expect far too much from an ineffectual, clueless and uninspiring man that based his 2018 presidential campaign mainly on a pledge to not follow in former President Robert Mugabe’s discredited footsteps. Mnangagwa didn’t boast one solid government policy he had designed and implemented in Zimbabwe’s troubled past.

The former vice-president could have attempted to sell the corruption-infested Command Agriculture programme as his ‘baby’. But that honour goes to First Lady Grace Mugabe apparently. So up until November 24, 2017, Mnangagwa’s influence on Zimbabwe’s development amounted to directing the Gukurahundi massacres as a security minister, riding on Mugabe’s political coattails during violence-hit parliamentary elections and cashing a fat cheque every month. 

The Chamisa conundrum 

Yet across the empty, problematic political aisle dividing progressive democrats from Zanu-PF’s military-backed loyalists, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has fared no better in the democratic stakes. Chamisa’s disputed party leadership has provided Zimbabwe with difficult questions to ponder rather than bold answers to Mnangagwa’s failed leadership. What’s more, a recent, sudden burst of absurd comments around Chamisa’s leadership emanating from overly ambitious, foulmouthed party subordinates suggest the MDC Alliance lacks robust internal democracy and strong moral leadership.

Last week, MDC Alliance deputy national chairperson Tendai Biti blasted Douglas Mwonzora’s decision to challenge Chamisa for the MDC Alliance presidency by contending the MDC Alliance secretary-general is a “Zanu-PF half-wit“ and “a nincompoop”.

Furthermore, in an indication that defending MDC Alliance electoral procedures and safeguarding democracy is obviously inconsequential to defeating Mnangagwa in the 2023 presidential poll, Biti further stated that, “We already have a candidate in … Chamisa. So, we will not tolerate that”.

Not to be outdone by Biti’s Didymus Mutasa like bootlicking and Nathan Shamuyarira style absolutism, MDC youth league assembly secretary-general Lovemore Chinoputsa painted Mwonzora’s mooted candidacy as a cataclysmic Zanu-PF project. And to top it all, Zengeza MP Job Sikhala shamelessly characterised any challenge to Chamisa at May’s elective congress as “a kiss of death”.

These mindless dictatorial rants and Chamisa’s subsequent disciplinary inaction should worry us all. Zanu-PF has already circumvented an open democratic selection process by declaring Mnangagwa its presidential candidate for the 2023 elections. This despite an overwhelming incapability to attract foreign direct investments, resolve government pay disputes and show strong leadership.

Still, Chamisa’s hawkish sycophants appear intent on copying Zanu-PF’s Chinese Communist Party style politics and indulging in communalist repression and slanderous witch hunts. Yet, what is it about Chamisa’s leadership that trumps an overwhelming need for a fair and transparent democratic process to happen this May? Is it the same ‘star’ quality and massive popularity Mugabe boasted in the 1980s?

Strengthen democracy, respect women’s rights

The MDC Alliance mustn’t compromise our progressive agenda or tolerate terrifying misogyny from Sikhala just to fulfil Chamisa’s presidential aspirations. On March 3, in response to a seemingly spurious accusation made against Chamisa, Sikhala tweeted, “Guys here present can you rape this kind of a woman?”

Whatever the circumstances surrounding this tweet, Sikhala shamed womanhood and glorified rape as a perfectly common male pleasure on a global platform. Yet Chamisa has remained silent on Sikhala’s misogyny and further dented his shabby reputation for promoting women’s rights.

Lest we forget, Chamisa churlishly promised to ‘give’ his sister to Mnangagwa as part of a distasteful jibe during a May 2018 campaign rally. What’s more, MDC President Thokozani Khupe suffered despicable verbal abuse and physical assaults at the hands of Chamisa supporters, firstly at the MDC’s Bulawayo offices in August 2017, and later at Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral in Buhera in February 2018.

With such a lackadaisically indifferent attitude towards women and towards clamping down on misogynistic acts, do Chamisa and MDC Alliance leaders have ample moral standing to criticise ZDF sexual assaults? I’m afraid not, and that is a cause for great concern.

However, the youthful leader has sufficient humanitarian goodwill to stand firmly on and turn his personal and party’s moral failings around. But he must shun misogyny, undemocratic tendencies and violence within MDC Alliance ranks. If need be, Biti and Sikhala must be removed from his inner circle.

At this stage, Chamisa’s commitment to establishing a progressive order can only be judged his party leadership and the company he retains. Establishing a ‘Zanu-PF-lite’ MDC Alliance party simply to crown Chamisa Zimbabwe’s president won’t ease our political troubles much.

We must move forward.

Best Regards

Tafi Mhaka is a political commentator who can be followed on Twitter: @tafimhaka